Santos Selected Coach of The Year in the CAA
Ricky Santos speaks to Bellingham football fans at Anderson Field when his number was retired.
By KEN HAMWEY,
Staff Sports Writer
Ricky Santos earned a variety of awards during his career at quarterback for the University of New Hampshire and at Bellingham High, where he led the Blackhawks to a pair of Super Bowl championships.
Now, after his first season as UNH’s head coach, the 38-year-old Santos has added more hardware to his trophy case. Leading the Wildcats to a 7-1 record in the Colonial Athletic Conference (CAA) and finishing as co-champions, Santos was named the conference’s Coach of the Year. The season ended with an 8-3 overall record and marked the most victories and the first playoff berth since 2017. The CAA title was the university’s first since 2014.
The CAA pre-season poll had UNH finishing ninth.
Santos reflected on the award and the playoff berth by crediting his former coach, Sean McDonnell, for the team’s success.
“It means everything,” Santos said. “This program’s been my entire life. I’ve got to give credit to Sean McDonnell. A Hall of Fame coach, I know his career didn’t end the way he wanted it to. A lot of this is for him. He was a part of this. Most of our players came here because of coach Mac. For us to go from 3-8 to 8-3, I’m just so proud of the resolve of these young men.’’
UNH took care of business in the first round of the playoffs. Dylan Laube ran for three touchdowns and hauled in an 87-yard touchdown pass to lead the Wildcats to a 52-42 win over Fordham in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. However, a 35-19 loss to Holy Cross eliminated the Wildcats.
“We played our best football towards the end of the season,’’ Santos noted. “And, it was rewarding to qualify for the playoffs. UNH football is back, and our goal every year will be to be ranked as a top 25 team in the FCS.’’
Santos served as associate head coach to McDonnell. A losing season in 2018 ended the playoff runs and was followed by a 2019 season when McDonnell was out on a medical leave and Santos, as interim head coach, led the team to a 6-5 record.
Then COVID-19 hit. The 2020 season became a one-game campaign in the spring of 2021. In the fall of 2021, the Wildcats started fast under McDonnell and won their first three games, but then dropped their last eight.
McDonnell retired after the season ended, and Santos took over, becoming UNH’s 20th head coach.
While playing at UNH, Santos rewrote the university’s record book at quarterback. He led the Wildcats to four straight playoff berths and after his collegiate career, he played pro football in Canada.
Santos was a hall of fame inductee at both Bellingham and UNH, and his number (2) was retired at both venues. At UNH, he earned all-America honors and won the Walter Payton Award (the 1-AA equivalent of the Heisman Trophy).
Santos finished his UNH career with 123 touchdown passes. He threw for 165 yards and a touchdown in the Hula Bowl and during his 2004 rookie season at UNH, Santos was named the ECAC Rookie of the Year and the Atlantic 10 co-Rookie of the Year. He holds UNH career records in pass attempts (1,498), completions (1,024) and passing yards (12,189).
At the high school level, Santos was a dominant competitor in football. He was a two-time Tri-Valley League MVP, was twice named the Division 5 Player of the Year, a two-time Metrowest Player of the Year, and, as a senior, won all-State honors.
In November 2002, during the annual Thanksgiving Day game against Norton, he threw for seven touchdowns. He played forward in basketball on the 2002-03 Blackhawks squad that won a state championship.
When Santos took the head-coaching reins last year, quotes from his news conference provided plenty of insight that success might be just around the corner.
“I’m humbled and honored to be named head coach for such a storied program and at such a prestigious institution,’’ Santos said. “We believe great teams are built on toughness, grit, and a family atmosphere. We will work hard to instill these qualities in our young men and cultivate an environment where our leaders thrive.’’
He also emphasized the importance of being surrounded by good people.
“The foundation of any great program or organization is the people,” he said. “When you look at what makes our team and this university special, it’s everyone involved. From the administration, the assistant coaches, players, training staff, strength staff, equipment staff, faculty and the entire Durham community. Everyone shares the same vision in making sure we develop our student-athletes and help them reach their full potential.’’
Santos, who lives in Madbury, N.H., with his wife and two children, emphasizes UNH is his home away from home. “I have so much passion and appreciation for this place and the program,’’ he said. “It’s all so special.’’
The Bellingham native also cherishes the people and the town where his gridiron career began. “The people in Bellingham have always supported me, and it’s a special place,’’ he emphasized. “People have always reached out and showed appreciation for the success I’ve had. The town has a family atmosphere.’’